How Leaders Use Vision, Mission and Values With Ray Kelly

by Ryan Goulart

Two of the most important workplace topics are learning how to lead and how to scale a business, and yet these topics can seem too big, even inaccessible, to many rising stars. That’s why Ray Kelly, senior vice president and consultant at think2perform, likes to start with three simple yet powerful ideas: vision, mission, values.

But in too many organizations, employees and even leaders don’t really know what the vision, mission and values are. During one speaking engagement, Ray told everyone in the room, “I’ll give $100 to anyone who dials their office right now, hands me the phone, and whoever answers the phone can give me [the organization’s] vision, mission or values.

“Not one team took me up on it,” Ray continues. “So they had a vision, mission and values, but no one in their organization knew what they were.”

On this episode of Making the Ideal Real, we’re speaking with Ray about the importance of vision, mission and values, why Level 5 leaders keep these concepts top of mind and why “intentionality” is essential for anyone who wants to become a better leader.

Top Leaders Connect Everything to Vision, Mission and Values 

On a previous episode of Making the Ideal Real, we talked with Ray about the five levels of leadership, including how Level 5 leaders can “tie everything back to the bigger why” of the organization or person. 

As leaders develop, they move from being simply good at their jobs to becoming effective at spotting and solving problems as well as leading and developing other employees. The final step from Level 4 to Level 5 leadership is consistently connecting your communication, actions and problem-solving back to the vision, mission and values. This habit turns buzzwords into meaningful ideas. And, Ray notes, when employees understand the organizational “why?” and how their tasks connect to it, they’re much more likely to be engaged.

Developing these concepts takes time — up to 18 months for a vision statement, Ray says. And showing your employees that you believe in these ideas is crucial. “If you don’t believe in that vision, aren’t living by those values, forget about it,” he adds. “That authentic behavior has to be there, so it’s not just a ‘go and check the box’ exercise.”

Leaders Must Communicate Continuously

Communicating the vision, mission and values isn’t a one-time exercise, Ray notes. Leaders must communicate 10 times over to ensure that employees understand the message, absorb it and put it into practice. 

Leaders spend so much time developing the vision, mission and values that they can forget the learning curve for employees — what Ray calls “the curse of knowledge.” These leaders have had plenty of time to absorb these concepts; meanwhile, employees receive a single 45-minute presentation.

“The average person is thinking about, ‘What’s ahead of me today?’ and all of a sudden, I’m expecting them to see the 10-year vision the first time I present,” Ray says. “This is one of the reasons why the leader has to communicate times a factor of 10. … Your job as the leader is to get them to see it.”

This communication is inherent in Level 5 leaders, who make sure everything ties to the vision, mission and values. “If you have a change in your benefits, connect it back to the vision, mission, values,” Ray says. “If you’re going to change the water you’re using in the water cooler, connect it back to, ‘How does this better serve the employees or client?’”

Grow as a Leader by Being Intentional

If you want to become a better leader — someone who lives out vision, mission and values — you need to be intentional about it. Ray offers the 70-20-10 formula for this learning journey:

  • 70% by doing and practicing.
  • 20% through coaching or mentoring.
  • 10% through formal or informal learning (classes, books, podcasts, etc.).

Ray highlights the value of getting a coach or mentor to help you identify your personal vision, mission and values. “Most people have never asked themselves, ‘What is the vision I have for my business? What’s the vision I have for my life, my family?’” Ray says. “Most people have never asked themselves that; even fewer people have actually looked for it.”

Once you’ve discovered what these concepts mean to you, develop a plan to put them into practice and improve. “The one thing I did well was in my early 20s, I just said, ‘I want to be a great leader,’ and I became intentional about it,” Ray says. “And you build a plan every year and try to do your best to live in alignment.”

People in This Episode

Ray Kelly: LinkedIn

Transcript

Ray Kelly:

… everyone wants that silver bullet answer. They want everyone to get the vision, they want everyone to understand the values and what they mean, why we’re going there. And I just say this is one of the reasons why, as a leader, you have to communicate times a factor of 10.

Ryan Goulart:

That’s Ray Kelly, senior vice president at think2perform. We’re talking about how to really use mission, vision and values as a leader. I’m Ryan Goulart, and you are Making the Ideal Real. I have with me today Ray Kelly, a senior vice president here at think2perform. We’re talking about how to use vision, mission, values with your team, with your employees, with your firm. Ray, welcome to Making the Ideal Real.

Ray Kelly:

It’s great to be back. I must be doing something right, you invite me back.

Ryan Goulart:

One of the things that you and I have talked about as it relates to this topic of vision, mission, values, if you pick up a book on leadership development or scaling a business, it always comes back to this topic, yet it doesn’t always feel the most accessible, so where would you like to begin?

Ray Kelly:

Yeah, it’s a great observation. It comes back to vision, mission, values. One of the most common mistakes leaders make, whether it’s in a business — we’re talking more leading a business, but it could be a family, it could be a team, the coach of a team, any organization — the vision, mission, values is often underestimated by your average person. You’ve heard me talk about the five levels of leadership on this podcast before. And if you remember what a Level 4 does, it’s the ability to mobilize a group of people around a common cause to drive a result consistently. And part of the secret of being a consistent Level 4 leader is do Level 5 leadership. And the Level 5 I’m talking about is the Level 5 does Level 4, plus they tie everything back to the bigger why. Whether it’s the person’s personal vision, mission and values, the personal why or the organizational why, which includes the vision, mission and values.

People underestimate how strong that is. I go back to my early days in the workforce, and I can tell you vision, mission and values were just buzzwords. And I remember our CEO at the time was a guy named Harvey Gallup, started with a company called IDS and American Express Financial Advisors, then Ameriprise today. But Harvey was the visionary that convinced American Express to buy this little company called IDS. In every single meeting, he started and ended talking about vision, mission and values. I thought he needed a new speech writer. I was like, “If I hear this one more time.” But what he was doing was connecting everything back — key strategies, recognition — everything was being connected back to that, and I didn’t get it.

I was a great Level 1 leader. When told what to do, I got the work done. And now that I work as a coach and a consultant so much and have been involved in how to use vision, mission, values, I see a lot of people that are good Level 4 leaders. They know how to get a result. They know how to drive a result. They think the key element is making sure your people are motivated, paid properly. “I got to have an incentive plan, right? “Can you get my help on an incentive plan?” I can help you with that but before we do that, let’s get back to vision, mission, values.

The most important thing for them is being very locked in terms of where we’re going, our vision, understanding our mission and then finally, the values that were going to guide our decision making as we get between current reality and where we’re trying to go. A good friend of ours, Don McPherson, Don ran a company called Modern Survey. Modern Survey is a company that specialized in employee engagement, how to get the best out of your employees. He worked with over 1,200 organizations, companies across the world, and every year he would survey the employees or the people that were part of those organizations, teams and stuff like that.

And they did one of those people satisfaction surveys. One of the questions they asked people every year, Ryan, is, “How much effort do you give at work? How engaged are you at work?” He would send me the results every year, and the last year that I saw the results from Modern Survey, — it’s been sold to Aon — but in 2015, the question was asked to all of these people, “How engaged are you at work?” And to my surprise, only 16% of those people said that they were fully engaged. These are people self assessing that they’re giving it their all. And that was, oh, by the way, a 10-year high. Basically 1 in 7 people in your organization are actually giving their all. Eighty-four percent of the people are not giving their all. They’re like, “Holy smokes, that’s huge potential for results, output, productivity.” But not necessarily a huge difference in terms of what the leader is doing in terms of work output, stuff like that.

They just had to change what they were doing. And one of the things, they measured it every year, they found that the people in an organization who could just state where we’re going, why we’re going there and the values of the organization were 51 times, not 51%, but 51 times more likely to be fully engaged than the people who couldn’t state those things. And I was like, “Wow.” There’s not too many things, Ryan, that we could do as a leader to improve our productivity by 51 times. And to get the people to be fully rowing with you, fully engaged, the power of that why, vision, mission and values. That is extraordinary, so teach them how to actually, first and foremost, have a vision, have a mission statement, have values that guide your decision making. Then once you have it, how to use it every single day.

One of our clients, they asked me to go talk to their top 50, 60 teams across the country, and they said, “Hey, we’ve worked on the vision, mission and values. All our teams have that in place, Ray. We listened to you, got it in place.” I said, “That’s awesome, I can’t wait, so I don’t have to spend any time in my training next month?” And they said, “No, it’s set.” So I started the meeting off by saying, “My understanding is all of you have a vision statement for your organization values,” and they’re all shaking their head yes, positive, affirmative: “We got it down.” And then I reached in my pocket, pulled out a $100 bill, and I said, “I’ll give $100 to anyone who dials their office right now, hands me the phone, and whoever answers the phone can give me vision, mission and values.”

Not one team took me up on it. So they had a vision, mission and values, but no one in their organization knew what they were. I said, “That’s a starting point. Where we’re going, who we’re serving, why we’re serving them and values to guide us.” Instead of saying, “Hey, we’ll give you extra money and extra stuff and all these things if you do what we want you to do,” how about give them a purpose worthy of their best effort, achieve this vision working together, serve these clients in a certain way?

Ryan Goulart:

Yeah, when it comes to how this whole thing gets put together — so your example where vision, mission, values, it was a checklist. They were told what to do to get the job done. As a new business, as a new firm, you need to have vision, mission, values because everyone else has vision, mission, values, and so I must have to have that, too. Now, when you mentioned changing the leader’s behavior, I mean, how much of that internalization for the employees, for the people that give their best efforts, how much of that does the leader have to believe in the vision, mission, values?

Ray Kelly:

If the leader doesn’t believe, you might as well just forget about it.

Ryan Goulart:

Right.

Ray Kelly:

Belief is in the top three things that must happen if you want to have that ownership within your organization. So if you don’t believe in that vision, aren’t living by those values, forget about it. That authentic behavior has to be there, so it’s not just a “go and check the box”f exercise. How many leaders say, “Yeah, we got a vision for our organization,” would you share it with me? And some of them will actually read it to me. I go, “No, no, share it with me. I get we have a written vision statement, but share it with me and why I want to be part of as one of the people on your team.” That’s where the belief comes through. Over 90% of effective communication, Ryan, is non-verbal. If your vision statement is you just reading it and people aren’t getting excited, you ain’t there yet.

I tell people this all the time: A good vision statement will take 12 to 18 months. It’s like a good wine. You let it ferment, you let people react to it, you work on it until all of a sudden you go, “I got it. It gets me up in the morning, excited, and is it getting more and more of my people up excited?” If it’s not, you’re not there yet. One of the things I’m seeing happen right now, people are using ChatGPT to come up with their vision statement. Throw in a few key words, say, “Hey, I’d like a vision statement.” Seconds later it pops up and go, “We got it.” ChatGPT has got a lot of experience doing it now, so Chat’s got an advantage. But what Chat doesn’t have an advantage over them is simple, complex. What do you prefer, Ryan, simplicity or complexity?

Ryan Goulart:

Simplicity.

Ray Kelly:

We all want simplicity. What happens when things are too complex?

Ryan Goulart:

You get lost.

Ray Kelly:

Nothing happens. All of a sudden people’s eyes glaze over, they get lost. But here’s the thing about simplicity. There’s a famous quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes who was a Supreme Court justice around 1900. And he said, “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on the near side, but I’d give my right arm for simplicity on the far side.” What the heck was he talking about? It’s back to, for many of us, getting a vision statement, or we get it on paper when we do a “check the box” exercise — not worth a fig. But if you actually work on it for hours, really thinking about gaining input from your people, letting it ferment, come back to it a few months later, share it with people, say, “We’re still missing something else.” And when you get through all of that complexity, all that input, and you get to the far side when you finally have it, it’s worth your right arm.

I have a good friend who took my coaching, too. He built a coaching business and he feels like he has the answer. “Why don’t I just save him some time? That’s one of the reasons why they hire me. I’ll give them everything you want.” I said, “It won’t work.” He goes, “Why not?” The pain of going through the complexity gets you to the far side, makes it worth your right arm. And I think that’s one of the keys for this thing is everyone wants that silver bullet answer. They want everyone to get the vision, they want everyone to understand the values and what they mean, why we’re going there. And I just say this is one of the reasons why a leader, you have to communicate times a factor of 10. Ten times what? Ten times more than you think you need to. The reason why those people didn’t have confidence in taking my $100 away from me is they had communicated it probably once. “Hey, here are our corporate values.”

Maybe a few of them actually put them up on the wall. It doesn’t work that way. The leader has to be the CRO. Patrick Lencioni calls it part of the job of the CEO is the CRO, chief reminding officer. You have to continue to remind, and it’s not just saying it over and over again. Remember what a Level 5 does — connects everything back. There’s a famous quote about John F. Kennedy. He set the vision of, “Let’s send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of this decade.” He challenged the United States, NASA, that we were going to win the space race. And there’s a famous story where John F. Kennedy is walking around Cape Canaveral and he runs into the custodian janitor and says, “Young man, what is your role here? What’s your job here?” He says, “I’m here to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.”

He was connecting his job to helping with this mission. In NASA during the ’60s, every department leader had what they called ladders to the moon. On the top rung was put a man to the moon and return him safely to earth. You were required to — whatever you were working on, whether you were in the janitorial area, working on spacesuits, rockets, whatever — you had to connect what you were doing back to putting a man on the moon. They called them ladders to the moon. Ladders were in every department. They were all over; they were on the walls. The leaders were communicating times a factor of 10. They were required to connect everything they were doing back to the bigger why. Fifty-one times more likely to be fully engaged when you connect with them. You’re sweeping up the sidewalk at Cape Canaveral, and the person was helping put a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth.

Ryan Goulart:

Hey listeners, Ryan here. You’ve heard Ray talk about the five levels of leadership. Have you ever wondered what level leader you are? We have an answer, the Five Levels of Leadership Assessment, and it can be found in our store. Use the promo code “Level Five” to get 20% off. It’s on the leader then, and the business owner, to internalize the vision, mission, values. If it’s not internalized, if it’s not emotional, it’s going to be very hard to communicate it. That person has to also then communicate to a factor of 10 why the vision, mission, values — connect it back, frame it back.

Most people just skip over it to, “Here are the tactics” as to, “How does this make me money?” Which is such a blunt way to ask the question, but one of the things that you’re suggesting then is that while it’s part of a checklist, it’s an amplifier. So for those individuals then, that they’re not in that position that can, like you had mentioned, you couldn’t see what Harvey saw. He was operating in a different five years out, 10 years out, and the individual contributor occasionally is working one week out. How does that person start to understand, much like the janitor story, how do they make that feel powerful for that person?

Ray Kelly:

Well, first and foremost, it’s the leader’s job. The leader owns this. We had a speaker a couple years ago, I have his book up here on my bookshelf, Dan Heath. His brother Chip and he wrote a book called “Made to Stick.” And they’re both professors, one at Duke and I think the other one at Stanford. Two really smart guys. But the book, “Made to Stick,” or “Why do certain ideas stick and certain ideas don’t?” And if you saw the book, “Made to Stick,” imagine yourself walking through an airport and you see a book that’s bright orange, and it looks like it has a piece of duct tape across the front of it, just horizontal. And you literally walk and you see it’s a bright orange book with a piece of duct tape on it. You literally walk over and you actually feel the cover and it feels like there’s a piece of duct tape on it, and their whole point of this thing they’re doing is, “Why do certain ideas stick?”

Well, it was unexpected to see a bright orange book with a piece of duct tape on it and actually felt like duct tape. I picked up the book and looked at the cover. Next thing you know, I’m buying the book. In the book, they tell one of the challenges leaders have, and one of the biggest challenges they have is they have the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge is this: Typically, by the time the leader rolls out the vision, rolls out the new strategy, rolls out whatever they want to roll out, they’ve been thinking about it for six, 12, 18, maybe multiple years before they roll it out to all the people. And they give a big speech: “Hey, we’re going to have a kickoff meeting. I’m going to roll out our vision.” And 45 minutes later, “Oh gosh, that was a great speech,” and they’re wondering why the next day everyone’s not running through walls to achieve the vision. It’s because that leader has the curse of knowledge.

They see how it’s all connected, see the possibilities, and these people have had 45 minutes with it,f and they’re onto their day. But it’s the leaders who have the curse of knowledge. They see all the connections, and they have to understand these people spend 45 minutes on it, and it’s not their job to think big picture and see how all these things are connected. They’re getting it done with whatever their daily task is. The average person is thinking about, “What’s ahead of me today?” and all of a sudden, I’m expecting them to see the 10-year vision the first time I present. This is one of the reasons why the leader has to communicate times a factor of 10. They have the curse of knowledge. Your job as the leader is to get them to see it.

Ryan Goulart:

And it does make me think too then, I mean, you can read as many studies as you can on leadership, and one of the things that a lot of these studies end up focusing on is the role of middle management. They’re the ones that typically, for better or worse, get the brunt of why something doesn’t work. So would it be a good next step then, for those organizations that do have middle management as that conduit between executive leadership and those that are doing the work, how does a middle manager take this podcast and internalize it for themselves even though their leader might not be the ones doing it for them? I mean, there’s a little bit of proactive learning here of how to empower them. Because I am just thinking about whether someone’s in a corporate position or in a big financial practice firm, middle management is studied for a reason.

Ray Kelly:

This stuff isn’t just for C-suites. This is for all levels, whether you’re leading the new rollout of the new product. If you are running a project for a week, just trying to get people mobilized around your vision for cleaning up the lawn. Stephen Covey used to talk about this. “Green and clean,” he used to say to his son, “Green and clean.” That was his vision for the lawn. He was using vision-based leadership to get the lawn mowed by his teenage son. This stuff works at all levels. What would happen to the growth of your organization if it wasn’t just you who knew this, how to do this? What if you had an organization that had 10, 20, 30 people who knew how to mobilize a group of people on a common cause by connecting everything back to the vision, mission, values, they knew how to do it?

Holy smokes, growth explodes. You don’t have to be there all the time as the CEO. This is when you have a leadership culture. You have leaders who know how to use vision, mission, values, even on the smallest project. Because if you remember, for a Level 5 leader, what is connected back to the vision, mission, values? Everything. If you can’t connect it back to the vision, mission and values, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. So if you have a change in your benefits, connect it back to the vision, mission, values. If you’re going to change the water you’re using in the water cooler, connect it back to, “How does this better serve the employees or client?” Connect it back: “We have 150 people coming to our office every single week. We want to make sure they have the best quality coffee. Right now we’re getting complaints on it. We’re going to put you in charge of coffee.” 

All of a sudden, that person goes home and tells their spouse, “I’m in charge of coffee.” What big deal is that? “Well, 150 people come through here every single week. They’re our clients. They put me in charge. They gave me some values to guide my decision making, but I could go research any coffee I want.” All of a sudden, it’s a purpose worthy of their best efforts, and guess what you get from it? Their best efforts. You get fully engaged employees. It works at every level, whether it’s in a business. Great coaches do this on sport teams. Families, great leaders do this in families.

You and I were talking earlier about the Rockefellers. I read an article, this is a number of years ago. But one of the reasons you don’t see the Rockefeller’s names in the paper for all the stupid things their rich kids are doing, because every year they have two summits. They bring the whole family, grandkids, everything, and they have breakout sessions and they teach them this stuff. They work on the family values, how we’re going to support the family values of being philanthropic. Why wouldn’t you do this in your company? Why wouldn’t you do it in your family? They’re doing vision based, values-based leadership for their family. This is done at all levels, Ryan. Malcolm Gladwell wrote the book, “The Tipping Point.” It’s one of the best Level 4-plus leadership books I ever read because he teaches you how to do it by things he’s observed. And it’s the stuff, all of a sudden they have a communicated purpose.

Ryan Goulart:

As a next step for those that are listening, we’ve covered what it is, why it’s important, how to start to use it for decision making, communication, everything. What would you suggest people do? Go out and study where you work, vision, mission, values? Would it be better to have them do it for themselves first? What are some suggestions, advice from Ray Kelly?

Ray Kelly:

The key word is intentionality. When you decide to be very intentional about becoming a better leader, it happens. Then I’m going to share with you the 70/20/10 of adult learning, adult growing. In 70% of how you get better, how you grow as a leader is you have to go do it, practice it. Ten percent of adult learning draws on books, classes, podcasts. What you’re doing right now, listening to this podcast, folks, is a 10 percenter. It helps, but if I ever give direct advice for people, it’s the 20%, the coach or the mentor. Look for a coach or a mentor, someone that you respect, you like. Someone who’s successful in your field maybe, and offer them the compliment. “I was looking for a mentor, and I thought of you. I was wondering if I could sit down and buy a cup of coffee?” The 20% is the multiplier.

You have to go do this stuff. You don’t become a great golfer by watching a video; you have to practice. Watching a great video will help, but a coach or mentor that actually can say, “Hey, don’t make the same mistakes I made. Think about this, this is the video I’d watch. Let me give you some feedback.” All these different things, and they get tremendous growth out of that. That’s what I would do for all of you, is put it on your business plan this year. I used to call them an IDP, an individual developmental plan. You personally start there. Get a mentor or coach, and then start working on the game plan and what you want to work on. Most people have never asked themselves, “What is the vision I have for my business? What’s the vision I have for my life, my family?” Most people have never asked themselves that. Even fewer people have actually looked for it, even fewer people have actually found it, and even fewer people have lived in alignment with it. Start there, and it’s amazing. When you get to the far side of complexity, you know where you’re going. You can communicate to people where we’re going. “These are the things that are going to guide me on my way and why must I get there.” It’s pretty powerful. The one thing I did well was in my early 20s, I just said, “I want to be a great leader,” and I became intentional about it. And you build a plan every year and try to do your best to live in alignment.

Ryan Goulart:

Love it. Well, thank you, sir. Always a pleasure.

Ray Kelly:

It’s good to be invited back.

Ryan Goulart:

As we wrap this episode, we’re committed to helping you Make the Ideal Real. If you found this program helpful, share it and help someone else make their ideal real, too. Until next time, for Think to Perform, I’m Ryan Goulart. Take care.

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